Summer Reading Steps to Success

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Summer vacation is finally upon us! The end of final exams and the beginning of summer is an exciting time for students, but it is crucial to maintain sound academic habits throughout the summer. Most schools assign summer assignments to keep students engaged and productive during their three-month break. Although the summer is a time for rest and relaxation, taking small steps to ensure that you hit the ground running in August is a critical move.

There are plenty of ways to stay active and engaged during the summer, but this post focuses on the keys to summer reading success. For an overview of all of our summer success tips check out this blog post.

Summer reading is one of the easiest ways to maintain productive habits and routines during the summer months. Whether you are reading for history class or English, following the steps below will help you get the most out of your summer reading assignment and ace that first essay!

Step 1: Bite the bullet, order the book

With the miracle that is amazon prime, it is easier than ever to obtain all of your summer reading materials. Avoid procrastination by ordering your summer reading books right away. Students who wait until the last possible second to start reading will suffer the consequences. Take the plunge and order the book. Most schools publish their summer reading lists at the beginning of May. Simply find the page, locate your grade level’s assignment, and order. Hurry up and order before your book is out of stock.

Step 2: Make a plan

Any academic endeavor starts with a solid plan. After you have recovered from the chaos of final exams, make a plan for summer reading. The best course of action is to break up the reading into manageable chunks. Procrastination is often caused by fear. The quickest way to eliminate that fear is to divide the task into bit-sized chunks. For most students, the best way to plan is to divide the number of pages in the book by the number of weeks you have until schools starts. If you’re reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, that’s a few hundred pages per week. If you have Founding Brothers, you only have to read about thirty pages per week. Either way, the smart plan is to divide and conquer. Ideally, pick a designated reading time each day to keep you on track. By setting aside a few minutes each day to read, you can keep your brain sharp. Day after day, you will find it quite easy to sink into “reading mode”, as your brain becomes primed to read at this designated team.

Bonus tip: Use incentives to keep you motivated. Reward yourself with a candy bar or another small treat each time you accomplish your daily goal.

Step 3: Watch out for potential roadblocks.

As Mike Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. The summer is a hectic time, despite the misleading freedom. Family vacations, wisdom teeth removals, and spontaneous road trips will disrupt your productive reading time. However, you can build in safety nets to keep you on track. First of all, avoid potential failure by planning to finish the book a week or two before school starts. This way, you have a cushion in the event of an unforeseen disruption.  Secondly, plan around your family vacations and other weeks that you know about. Move your reading times if necessary, but make sure that you maintain steady progress.

Step 4: Master the art of annotating

Most English teachers drool over a well-annotated book. Annotations are the easiest way to maintain what you read, set yourself up for success on future essays, and truly enjoy all of the nuisances of literature. You should always have a pen in your hand while you read. The best advice I ever received from an English teacher was to become a “literary detective”. He told me to do a bit of research on the book before I started reading and gather two to three important themes to track as I read. For example, track the theme of identity in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Every time you see a quote, a symbol, or a hint of foreshadowing related to that theme, underline it and make a small note in the margin. You’ll find yourself reading in a much deeper, more analytical fashion. What Mr. V failed to mention was how much of a time saver annotating is when you have to write essays. By tracking a theme throughout the entire novel and making annotations, you can simply flip through the novel looking for markings when it comes time to choose quotes for your essay. Annotating well will save you plenty of time, while other students are practically re-reading the whole book to find the perfect quote to match their thesis. For the over-achievers out there, I still annotate every book I read. Annotating gives you x-ray vision into a novel’s themes, insights, and style. Also, a well-annotated book is a knock out first impression tool on the first day of class.

Step 5: Use audio intelligently

Students and parents constantly ask me about the efficacy of audiobooks. My answer is usually a series of questions: “Which class assigned the book? What do you know about the teacher? Have you had difficulties with reading assignments in the past?” The truth is that audio books are a fantastic reading tool, but only under the right circumstances. The tendency with audiobooks is to multi-task, meaning that most students divide their attention between summer reading and a plethora of stimulating activities. If you are listening to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek while playing Fortnite, your brain is dividing its powers between an over-stimulating video game and an internal monologue about the complexity of nature. Which one do you think is going to win that battle? Students should use caution with audiobooks, especially if their assignment is an analytical reading assignment for English or history class. For students with learning differences or a general apathy toward literature, audiobooks can be a valuable tool, but with one minor adjustment. Listen to the audiobook while reading a physical copy. You can even turn up the reading speed if you desire, but the act of sitting down with a tangible book will help you focus and ensure full comprehension. This method is also conducive to annotating, which is the goal of most summer reading assignments. For summer reading assignments that require a minimal amount of analysis, you can use audiobooks with full comprehension if you listen to them during a relatively mundane task like washing dishes, driving, or working out, as long as you can guarantee proficiency in the novel during the first few weeks of class.

Step 6: Prepare for the first day of class like a pro

Hooray! You finished the book, but are you sure that was the only part of the assignment? Some teachers require an essay rough draft on the first day of class. Others assign reading worksheets or give a test during the first week. Make sure you read ALL of the instructions. Taking advantage of the first few grades will set you up for success for the entire semester.

Summer reading can be a stress-free, stimulating way to keep your brain in peak form during the summer. Alternatively, it can be the chore that you procrastinate on all summer until the day before class starts. The choice is yours. By following the tips mentioned above, you can conquer any summer reading assignment and set yourself up for an awesome semester.

Happy reading!

Chris Chambers

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